Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council concluded that Israeli forces’ shooting of over 6,000 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza last year had “no justification” and that these acts “may constitute war crimes.” The report also investigated the deaths of 189 Palestinians on official protest days and found that of those, 183 were killed by Israeli forces with live ammunition.
Since 2006, and as recently as February of this year, Israel has demolished over 1,400 Palestinian homes in the West Bank. At least two East Jerusalem families have been violently evicted from their homes in the past two months to make room for more Israeli Jewish settlements.
Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank “will be evacuated” and destroyed before the upcoming Israeli elections. In the early hours of Feb. 10, 13-year-old Palestinian East Jerusalem resident Adam Abu Ryalah was arrested in his own home and detained for 11 hours by Israeli police without specific charges, as part of a routine practice of arrest and detention of Palestinian children.
These are merely some recent examples of the regularized human rights violations that Israel continues to inflict upon Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the Occupied Territories — the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Though as Brown students, these events may seem isolated and removed from our everyday academic routines, Brown has implicated itself, and therefore its community members, in the Israeli occupation and Israel’s continuous human rights violations. We must recognize that Brown’s investments in certain companies that perpetuate violations of Palestinian human rights render the University complicit in the same.
President Christina Paxson P’19 proudly asserts that Brown makes a concerted and deliberate effort to engage in ethical investment. In a 2013 announcement, Paxson states that Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies recommends divestment if “a company’s actions produce social harm, and (if social harm exists) when either (1) ‘divestiture will likely have a positive impact toward correcting the specified social harm’ or (2) the company ‘contributes to social harm so grave that it would be inconsistent with the goals and principles of the University to accept funds from that source.” But Paxson has ignored many of ACCRIP’s calls for divestment or even calls for a critical examination of Brown’s investments raised by any campus movement pushing for social and institutional change.
In this context, Brown Divest, a broad and diverse coalition of student organizations and individuals, proposes five criteria that help distinguish companies that are directly involved in violating Palestinian human rights. Those that have met any of these criteria are Safariland Group LLC, Boeing, Caterpillar, Oaktree Capital Group, Motorola Solutions, Textron and Hewlett-Packard. Although the Corporation’s investments are not public, Brown Divest argues that they are likely part of Brown’s endowment.
Each of these seven companies, among others, has been integral in perpetuating human rights abuses under Israeli occupation through construction of illegal settlements, home demolitions and technology and arms sales to the Israeli state. Brown must divest from these and other similar companies that violate the five criteria.
There exists clear parallels between the goals of Brown Divest and the values outlined in Paxson’s statement. Brown’s investment in the companies complicit in human rights abuses highlights patterns of institutional support for violence and social harm that we must reject. Without divesting from the companies that profit from the occupation, Brown cannot claim to be committed to socially responsible investment practices. It is imperative that Brown includes human rights abuses against Palestinians in its definition of social harm.
It is also critical to address concerns raised by community members that since this campaign highlights human rights abuses perpetrated by the only Jewish state in the world, it is anti-Semitic. We must all acknowledge the lived realities of anti-Semitism, be deeply alarmed by varied expressions of anti-Semitic hatred that have surged across the world and stand in solidarity with Jews and allies in their steadfast struggle to combat anti-Semitism anywhere.
Yet, we reject the notion that engaging in meaningful criticism of Israel’s policies, especially given its purported democratic values, is anti-Semitic. It is important to remember that Brown Divest is in response to a unique call by Palestinian civil society for divestment from the international community.
In addition, while it is certainly true that human rights abuses are perpetrated by many other states in the world, this should not justify silence on Palestine. It is important to raise awareness and organize pressure campaigns to end complicity in state sponsored human rights abuses committed across the world — in Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, India and Myanmar, to name a few. But this must be in addition to the campaign for Palestine, not as a tool to deflect from the conversation about Israel. The United States is uniquely supportive of Israel — in terms of military aid, unwavering support in multilateral organizations and termination of all aid to Palestinian refugees — which makes us uniquely responsible to take a stand on Israeli human rights violations.
Most importantly, Brown Divest calls for divestment from companies implicated in unethical activities that are not limited to a particular region of the world. Although the coalition’s criteria for divestment address Palestine, most of the companies that violate these criteria perpetuate violence against marginalized communities across the world.
For example, Safariland Group LLC, one of the companies on Brown Divest’s list, produces tear gas canisters and defense equipment that have been used by state security apparatuses internationally; against civilians in Ferguson, Water Protectors in Standing Rock, asylum-seekers in Tijuana and protesters in Istanbul, Bahrain and Gaza. Brown Divest has clearly made a commitment to drawing parallels between the systems of violence that these companies perpetuate around the world by working with groups on campus who focus on these areas — Railroad, Native American Heritage Series and Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition respectively.
More importantly, we must allay fears that divestment from these companies would reduce the financial aid available for first generation and/or low-income students. According to a recent press release published by Brown, funding for financial aid comes from the University operating budget, which benefits from a variety of funding sources, including donors. Some of those donations do not go into endowments or investments and instead directly to students. The statistical data on BrownTogether and The Brown Promise suggest that University donations are growing at unprecedented rates, which, depending on how much un-endowed money we have raised, means that divestment from specific companies may not have a substantial effect on financial aid. In regards to the parts of financial aid from endowment, we must remember that not all of the endowment is unethical — divestment would not make endowment as a whole disappear.
Divestment efforts across campuses are not new, and their efficacy in enacting social change is not limited to Brown. Examples include the international movement to end apartheid in South Africa through divestment in the 1980s and Brown’s own successful campaign in 2006 to divest from companies sponsoring genocide by the Sudanese government in Darfur.
Today, college campuses across the country and the world are increasingly mobilizing to support divestment initiatives on a broad range of issues, including against human rights abuses in Palestine. Swarthmore College became the most recent campus to pass a student or teacher resolution for divestment, joining Stanford University, George Washington University and New York University, among others.
The participation of students in the upcoming referendum, which opens at noon March 19 and closes at noon March 21, is a major step forward toward pressuring the Corporation to divest from companies that are complicit in and benefit from Palestinian and other suffering. Together, we can hold our University accountable for its complicity in human rights abuses against its espoused values and work toward ethical investment around the world. #YesOnDivest.
Sophie Overall ’19, a Jewish American, is a member of Brown Divest and can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.
A previous version of this article stated that “financial aid is mainly comprised from donors that support The Brown Promise.” In fact, funding for financial aid comes from the University operating budget, which benefits from a variety of funding sources, including donors. A previous version of this article also stated that “divestment from specific companies would most likely not have a substantial effect on financial aid.” In fact, the statistical data on BrownTogether and The Brown Promise suggest that University donations are growing at unprecedented rates, which, depending on how much un-endowed money we have raised, means that divestment from specific companies may not have a substantial effect on financial aid.